Things I Will no Longer Argue About

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I overdid it last week with the bending and the lifting and the stretching and the insomnia. Didn’t mean to. Just happened. With the morning sun came shooting pain in my abdomen and a wicked headache. So I’m in the recliner today, wrapped up in a blanket, watching the minutes tick by. That lovely combination of exhaustion and restlessness that follows surgery settles in. I don’t know if I’m going to have a panic attack, take a nap or give in to the urge for junk food that been poking at me for days. All seem like good options.

Thankfully, I’m just slightly smarter than I have been in the past. A panic attack may come, but it won’t kill me. A nap this late in the day definitely guarantees a sleepless night and I can achieve that without an extra help. Junk food equals liver poison. So I’ve been listening to music that makes me happy. Drinking water. Praying. God reminds me that I’m tougher than I think I am, and 15 days from now I’ll be released fully back into “normal life.”

Maybe you need that reminder today, too. It won’t last forever. You got this.

********

Anyway, that’s not what I want to write about.

I know better, but sometimes I take the bait. Briefly got into it with someone over the weekend. Same old argument about women’s roles in the Church. This time, Matthew 15:6-9 was flung at me:

…Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:

‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ (NKJV)

Not only was this so far out of context as to be laughable, the point was very clear: If you’re an egalitarian, if you think that women can preach, then you are far from God.

Of course this slap in the face was done “humbly,” in an effort to set me straight.

And I thought, “That’s it. I’m done.”

No longer will I argue about this. Contrary to popular belief, egalitarians take the Bible extremely seriously. We have studied this issue. We are not idiots or “liberals” (I’m not always sure what someone means when they use that term). We love the Lord just as much as complementarians do. I’m not going to waste time defending or justifying or explaining to people who clearly just want to fight. I’m not going to try to reason with people who seriously wonder if a woman should be “allowed” to be in charge of the finances if she’s married.

I’ve also decided that I won’t argue about Calvinism. So done with that. I’m sure my decision was predestined.

Look, it’s possible to talk about these things in a spirit of love and family. It’s possible for us to say, “I disagree with you, but you’re my sister/brother” or “I think you’re completely wrong, but we’re both saved by Christ.” I’ve had interactions of this type and they’re always fun and edifying. I always learn something. I always feel respected. Unfortunately, in my experience, many complementarians and Calvinists (they often go hand in hand, but not always) have taken such a hard line in their positions as of late, especially online, that this type of exchange is next to impossible. I find that extremely sad.

I’m an egalitarian. I’m Wesleyan/Holiness. Beating me with your “women must know their place, and their place is __________” or your Reformed system of biblical interpretation isn’t going to make me change my mind. Look down on me all you want. Feel superior. Tell me I’m rebellious. Tell me I am willfully ignorant.

When all is fulfilled and restored, when Heaven and earth are as one, I hope we have houses next to each other.

I firmly believe that correct doctrine is vital. I also believe that there are times when we need to make like Elsa and let it go. There’s a dying world outside our front doors. It isn’t helped by us trying to squash each other into submission.

Go ahead. Stay up in your comfortable ivory towers and talk about how everyone who doesn’t agree with you is wrong, wronger, wrongest. I have work to do.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: reenablack

Sola What?: Sola Scriptura

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This post was edited August 11, 2014, Edits appear in red italics.

Gentle Reader,

This is the post that I have been dreading. Attempting to keep a discussion of Sola Scriptura concise and accurate is like getting my wiener dog to stop chasing a ball. It’s just not going to happen. So please don’t take this one little entry as your only point of access into this centuries-old debate.

I begin by saying that Scripture should be seen as a coherent whole, containing the entirety of the Gospel message from Genesis to Revelation. This is the point of

Sola Scriptura: Scripture alone; the Bible, as the inspired (both directly and indirectly) word of God (as distinct from the Word, Jesus) is the only source that is authoritative for the faith and practice of Christians

I absolutely believe that Scripture, as the specific revelation of God (as opposed to the general revelation of nature), is the only source from whence faith and practice can be derived. There is no separate oral tradition. My Catholic friends who insist that such a tradition exists must also admit that this oral tradition is taken from the written word – simply not the written word of Scripture. Rather, oral tradition can often be traced to the second and third century pseudepigraphical (not written by the author named) documents such as the Protoevangelium of James. Despite Church Fathers noting that the document was of dubious origin, it was a popular work, and the belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary, first taught here, became entrenched.

 When a doctrine can be traced to what was recognized as an unreliable source, we have a problem.

But Protestants are not free of problems, though they are not of the same sort.

There are two kinds of problems within the congregations who claim Sola Scriptura. The first is seen in cases where there is no rule in how to approach the Bible, no idea for an interpretive framework. “Me and my Bible,” is the cry of this set. Ancient Christians answered this cry when they developed what is referred to as the Rule of Faith:

The Rule of Faith enabled the church to identify, preserve and pass on a coherent doctrine of God in the face of competing accounts of Christian identity. . .The plurality of potential interpretations did not entail the equal legitimacy of all the various claims, as if the church simply appealed to tradition because the Bible was defenseless. Instead, the early Christians saw the Rule of Faith as a form of moral restraint against human tendencies to twist the Scriptures in a self-interested ways. (1; emphasis mine)

In other words, if you read the Bible and cannot come to the conclusion that you

believe in God the Father Almighty, the Maker of Heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy [Spirit], born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucifed, dead and buried;. . .the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven and [sits] and the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from [where] He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic [universal] Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, (2)

then you have a problem. This is the ancient, orthodox understanding of both the frame around and the conclusions of Scripture. This is the lens through which it must be read. There needs to be a basic framework through which it is rightly understood. The proliferation of groups and cults that take a handful of verses and run wild with them is more than enough comment on the dangerous places that too-simplistic an understanding of Sola Scriptura can lead.

Thankfully, many churches understand that the Bible must be approached in this way. However, there are other areas of entrapment, found in our fondness for adhering to and elevating certain ways of interpreting and applying that teaching to the detrimental eclipsing of Scripture itself. 

Consider the theological hot-bed of eschatology (concerning the end of all things). There are denominations that absolutely insist, for example, upon a dispensational, premillenialist understanding of the end. Trouble is, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, Scripture does not spell this out for us. The only things that are perfectly clear about the end are:

Calamity will strike the earth.

Jesus will come back.

Everyone will be judged; those who are saved will enter into Heaven and those who are not will enter into Hell.

It’s not easily discernible whether a pre-, mid- or post-tribulation rapture of the Church will occur – or whether a rapture will happen at all.  Nobody knows for sure what form the mark of the Beast will take. Is the scroll that only the Lamb is worthy to open (Rev. 5) a Scroll of Destiny or the Title Deed to the Earth? Are the two witnesses (Rev. 11) Moses and Elijah?

I fully understand that the Bible must be interpreted. We interpret anything we read. The problem arises when, as in our example of dispensational premillenialism, an interpretive theological tradition outside of Scripture is held with such tenacity that it becomes the authority. Anyone not holding to this tradition is seen, at best, as something of an idiot and, at worst, as being outside of the Body. This is not appropriate. We must be willing to see those who claim the essentials of faith as being our brothers and sisters, whether or not we agree down to the last dotted “i” and the last crossed “t.” 

Once more allow me to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with holding to a particular understanding of the end times or of other things, such as soteriology. What I am attempting to show here is that we must not close our fists around such concepts and beat people with them. We must be willing to subordinate our systems to Scripture itself, constantly looking at the text and asking the Spirit for guidance.

Ultimately, Sola Scriptura is an accurate understanding of the Bible’s place in the life of a Christian. Surely we must say that it is God Himself who is the authoritative ruler on things pertaining to the faith and that the Bible, as His word to mankind, contains all that we need to know in order to establish a correct and ongoing relationship with Him. This is our authority. And yet we Protestants do not practice what we preach. In some cases we lack the most basic of frameworks, such as the Rule of Faith, and this leads us to some wildly inaccurate conclusions and dangerous cherry-picking. In others, our framework becomes so entrenched that we cannot and will not consider another view. We even go so far as to reject the trueness of our brothers and sisters who see a passage differently. 

This should not be so.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Sola What? series, go here.

 

References:

1. Daniel J. Treier. Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 59.

2. Ibid., 58.

3. http://evangelicalarminians.org/node/29.

It is God Who Saves

Gentle Reader,

The Greek word soteria, translated into our English language as “salvation,” means exactly what we think it means – deliverance and preservation. It is used throughout the New Testament in several ways, the first being physical deliverance from danger; second, the spiritual and eternal deliverance granted immediately by God to those who accept His conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus; third, the present experience of God’s power to deliver from the bondage of sin; fourth, the future deliverance of believers at the Parousia (second coming) of Christ for His saints; fifth, deliverance of the nation of Israel at the second advent of Christ; sixth, as a synonym for the Savior; and, lastly, an ascription of praise to God. 1

Proper soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation, then must concretely rest on the person and action of God. This is very clear in each of the senses in which this term is used. Within this term is encapsulated the “already and not yet” aspects of God’s work and kingdom; He is present to save now, but the full experience of that saving will not come until the end of all things. He is present, but He is yet to come. He is now, and He is then. This a wonderful part of the Lord’s mystery.

I write about this topic today for a reason that I am not entirely comfortable with. Though enjoying a good debate from time to time, it is my heart to see God’s people live and work in unity (not uniformity – there is a difference. Jesus prayed for one and not the other). Therefore, I do not desire to contribute to a division that is already bitter in many cases.

However, I am weary of leaders within the Calvinist theological tradition (whether they be five-point or not) accusing those outside of that tradition, like myself, of seeing salvation as man-centered, for nothing could be further from the truth.

A Calvinist of whatever stripe who understands his or her soteriology correctly will see salvation as predestined – foreordained in eternity by God. He has chosen who will be saved and Jesus’ death and resurrection applies only to them, the “elect” in what is known as limited atonement. In the language of the system, God has “passed over” others, leaving them to an eternal destiny of separation from Him.

An Arminian of whatever stripe who understands his or her soteriology correctly will see salvation as available to all – God, as One who stands outside of time, knows who will be saved, but He has not chosen them. Instead, Christ suffered for everyone (unlimited atonement) so that the Father could forgive those who repent and believe. God enables this choosing through prevenient grace, or the grace that goes before, which is available to all and prepares all to turn to Him, though many choose not to respond to this conviction.

These are, of course, extremely simple summaries of complex theological systems. There are many and deep questions involved – does God’s knowing beforehand constitute His determining beforehand? Does a human being have free will if he or she lives within a predestined framework? If some are “passed over,” how can they be guilty if they were never going to respond to the Gospel in the first place? How far does predestination go? Did God cause sin to happen in the Garden? Can a person lose his or her salvation if he or she has the free will to accept it in the first place?

These are important questions, and ones that I encourage you to reflect upon. Do your own study – consult the Bible, commentaries, your friends, and, above all, pray. Come to your own conclusions.

The point of this post is not to defend one or the other position, for I know what my soteriology is and why I believe that way. (That’s a post for another day. Ha! That rhymes). What I would like to focus on is this:

It is God who saves.

Period.

Bboth of these views affirm that.

Arminians do not believe that man is involved in salvation. It was God who came up with the plan and God who executed it. It was Jesus, God Incarnate, who died and rose again. There is absolutely nothing that I or anyone else has done to contribute to being saved. An Arminian simply believes that each person has a responsibility to accept the salvation that is freely offered to him or her. Each person has free will; their ultimate destiny is determined, yes, but by the consequences stemming from this choice, and not from a Divine predestination. It is all about God’s graciousness and His rule over all things, just as in Calvinism.

As I said before, this division is a truly bitter one for a lot of people. Both sides are caricatured by the other, and that saddens me. While I might not agree with the Calvinistic system, I can certainly respect it. I can see how they interpret Scripture. Those who possess this soteriology are my brothers and sisters, for we all live under the shed blood of Jesus Christ. That, for me, is enough.

We can debate all we want to. Frankly, I want to have an extremely long conversation with John Calvin that may well take up most of eternity and tell him exactly why I disagree with him. I think that will be a lively exchange and we’ll be able to do it in the context of love. I truly believe that we can also do that here and now.

The world is watching, folks. While we may understand our differences in theology, they don’t. They see us tearing each other to pieces over this, we who claim to know and serve a holy, loving God. Why would they want anything to do with a group that acts like everyone else? Why would they want a God who seems to make no difference in daily living?

Whether you believe that God chose you and you had to respond or that He chose you and you, in turn, chose to respond to Him, you believe in One holy, Triune, sovereign King of creation who has been gracious enough to save you when you didn’t deserve it.  You believe that sin separates and that what Jesus did was necessary to bridge the gap. You will spend eternity sitting at the feet of the Master in humble adoration. Yes, that’s right – that person whom you now call names will be in Heaven with you.

Because what does salvation entail?

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” – Acts 16:31

It’s all about Jesus.

It is God who saves – whatever way you slice it.

References:

1 William E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Jr. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), 545.